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Kevin E. Lofton; CEO at Catholic Health Initiatives

  • The future of health care is well care

You might be surprised to learn that about 60% of our overall health and well-being has nothing to do with the medical care we receive. It’s connected directly to behavioral, environmental and social factors – everything from access to public transportation to the availability of health food in your neighborhood, among many other factors.

In fact, only about 20% of our health status is attributable to health access to medical care, while another 20% is tied to genetics. This means that lifestyle factors and the so-called social determinants of health have an incredibly important impact on a healthy lifestyle.

At Catholic Health Initiatives, we’re already seeing some extremely positive results from our renewed focus on population health and social determinants. We call it the “Total Health Roadmap,” and it represents the most recent tangible expression of our mission, which, since the day we were founded 22 years ago, has been to create healthier communities.

Last summer, CHI was awarded a grant of $2.5 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support this innovative program, which identifies social determinants of health as a prerequisite to building and sustaining health communities. We matched that grant with $2.5 million from our Mission and Ministry Fund to launch the program in three of our largest markets: Denver-based Centura Health, which operates in Colorado and Kansas; KentuckyOne Health, based in Louisville; and Mercy Health Network, headquartered in Des Moines.

We are following through quickly and successfully in these markets with two foundational objectives:

  • Transform CHI’s role as a health care provider – not just a “hospital system” – to ensure basic human needs are addressed as a standard of care.
  • Utilize the scale and standing of these three markets as “anchor institutions” in their communities, creating broad-cased community coalitions that support and build upon these initiatives to further the healthful impact for those we serve.

Here’s a couple of good examples of what we mean when we say this program is designed to address the social and environmental factors that affect health:

  • One individual – let’s call him Jim – had visited one of our emergency departments on numerous occasions, complaining of gastrointestinal problems. He was matched with a care coordinator who visited the man’s home – and discovered that his small apartment had no refrigerator. His medial issues actually stemmed from the fact he was often eating food that was spoiled. Our team worked with local resource agency to acquire a small refrigerator; he has not had to return for treatment.
  • Another individual with very bad eyesight couldn’t function effectively in many daily activities because he couldn’t afford eyeglasses. A health coach confirmed that his basic insurance would cover an eye exam, then connected the man to local agency that agreed to pay up to $200 for eyeglasses. It’s not an exaggeration to say this changed the man’s life.

It seems so simple – and so basic. Yet these sorts of non-traditional approaches to health care – helping people live their lives and providing them with the things that so many of us take for granted — have a huge and lasting impact on our communities. We are very excited about the early results.

Simply put, this is the future – the future of health care outside of the historic and traditional limitations of an actual hospital building. It’s the future as we continue to evolve toward a health system that concentrates on well care rather the sick care – and one that focuses on clear outcomes such as higher quality, lower costs, higher value and better overall safety.

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